Sunday, August 29, 2010

Movie Review: The Sky Crawlers

Japanese Anime, very recent; directed by Mamoru Oshii; from a novel (graphic is my guess) by Hiroshi Mori.

Air combat, in the style of World War II but with semi-futuristic aircraft that reminded me of the comic, “Luftwaffe 1946.” For fighters, one side flies a very Mustang like aircraft with double prop’s; the other side flies a swept-wing, double pusher-prop plane with canard wings, very reminiscent of the planes flown by the English sky-carrier pilots in “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.” Other than the scenes of aerial combat, other aspects of actual war are strangely absent.

I watched the movie on my “Asia Movies” channel, so it was in Japanese with no assistance for the layman. After my viewing, I checked the Internet Movie Data Base and found out a little about the story, which I will share at the end of this post. (

The story is told from the point of view of the side with the pusher-prop planes, one particular unit at a remote airfield where the hangers show signage for “Rostock Iron Works.” The insignia on the planes is vaguely reminiscent of the logo of U.S. Steel. The pilots, and the commander, are teenagers, which is the norm for Japanese Anime. They speak Japanese and read Japanese newspapers, but when they leave the base they go to “Daniel’s Diner,” where the T.V. news is in English. In one news article, the announcer says that a number of “Rainbow aircraft of the [so-and-so corporation] were shot down today . . .” The pilots also speak English in the cockpit on sorties.

That corporation remark was a good clue. There’s obviously no real war going on, there’s virtually no security at the air base, the aircraft are kept in old fashioned, above ground hangers that would be right at home at any small, 20th Century civilian airport. There are no revetments, no earthen birms, no perimeter, no blast protection of any kind. (They do have radar.)

A tour bus comes to the airport with another clue to what’s going on. The tourists are fans of the pilots, even seeking autographs. They flatter the pilots that they are “fighting for a peaceful world.” They refer to the pilots’ “team.”

The presentation is visually wonderful, and the music is good too. The textures of surfaces, and the perspective of rooms, are rendered with remarkable precision. Things like clouds, or the surface of the ocean, are naturalistic in their appearance and movement. All thanks to modern software, no doubt. The characters, on the other hand, are the usual Anime abstractions.

The pusher-prop ace is a kid named Cairn, who is perpetually lighting a cigarette and never loses his 2,000 yard stare. The second half of the movie was mostly exposition, including a long memory-montage, but I missed it all, not understanding Japanese. There were little windows of English, like when Cairn says in the cockpit, kind of blandly, “I killed my father.” Maybe he only heard it, or thought it. If anything, he sounded a little bit surprised.

The pilots and the commander kill time at a giant whore-house, they go bowling, they have a few beers, and they ride around on or in vehicles including scooters, motorcycles, a late seventies Porsche Carrera, and a late fifties Cadillac convertible with huge fins. They are obviously deeply depressed, they wave guns around and threaten suicide, usually with cigarettes in their mouths and/or beers in their hands.

In the midst of the exposition, there is a huge, well mounted air battle that looks like a high-tech Battle of Britain. There are hundreds of planes in the action, with lots of loses. By the end of the movie, a huge catalog of these old fashioned/future tech planes have been lovingly displayed. (Insider alert: if you are a fan of “Luftwaffe 1946,” or Nazi X-planes, you’ll love this movie.)

There is a final showdown between Cairn and the ace of the Mustang jockeys, a guy with a long, abstract black cougar on the side of his plane. Cairn is brilliant, as usual, the aerial maneuvers are very creative, but he gets shot down. The ‘Stang driver is just too strong, and his plane is very heavily armed. When the wing guns fire, shell casings fly out the back of the wings wholesale, and in the final encounter he fires a big nose cannon that he had kept under wraps until then.

The ending is a cliché, the commander standing on the field, beneath ominous clouds, accompanied by the squadron’s faithful dog. Finally she and the dog turn and walk away. (Fade to credits.)

EXPLANATION: Here’s the synopsis from the Internet Movie Data Base:

“Youngsters called ‘Kildren,’ who are destined to live eternally in their adolescence . . . everyday could be their last, because they fight a war as entertainment, organized and operated by adults . . . they live their day-to-day lives to the full.”

So it’s an unconventional anti-war movie. It’s no “Burmese Harp,” no “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” no “All Quiet on the Western Front,” but I get it, and it’s a pretty good show. Find it if you like this kind of thing.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Very Valuable Thing

I just passed a good time looking back over this thing of mine, this blog, this "Spin Easy Time." I am very favorably impressed.

There's a lot of good stuff here, and tons of it. My opinion is that this blog is a very valuable thing, literature even. I would recommend it to anyone with some command of English. Reading the entire thing from beginning to end would repay the effort.

I see lots of blogs. Many are just dull; many try so desperately hard to be cool that they are just sad; many are anger based and vaguely disturbing; many are single-purpose and therefore of limited utility; many are news/politics oriented and I think of them as more magazine than blog. I do see some good ones, but "Spin Easy Time" is still competitive.

Thanks for reading.

The Song

A few friends treated me to a delicious lunch for my birthday, and later we shared a cake and they sang the birthday song. It was such a nice gesture, and I really appreciated it, although I don't find my birthdays much cause for celebration at this stage of the game.

Khun Fad ("Twin"), Khun Uan (sounds like oo-wan, "Fat"), and their niece, Nong Mai ("New") are a good bunch, and they always show proper respect for their elders.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Hollies - Look Through Any Window

I don't mean to harp on this, but the Hollies were great. (Read the post below first, please.) My first criterion is always: can then set up and play? No lip synching here or below. This was the first Hollies song that I heard. 1964, on radio station CKLW, from Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Late at night you could pick it up in New York. I purchased the album immediately, or sooner.

The Hollies had some great songs, you have to admit. Something like fourteen top ten songs in a row while the Beatles were ruling the charts.

THE HOLLIES - On A Carousel (1967)

I was in the bath one time, in the mid-1980's, listening to my favorite radio show of all time, "The Cool and the Crazy Radio Show," on Corsair Radio West. The theme of the show was loosely Beatlemania. "If I Needed Someone" came on. As I reclined in the tub and listened to the song, I remember thinking, you know, maybe the Beatles were better than I thought. Then I realized that the song being played was a cover version by the Hollies.

The Beatles were a very good band, but they were not the only ones. The Hollies were great.

Spam Can Be Fun

I got the greatest spam "comment" today. Some of the best Engrish, weird English, that I have ever seen. Such as:

"exclusively tipple guaranteed to carry far-off the palm you fancy superabundant!"

That was the first sentence of the message, no initial capitol.

Or this one:

"Our all surprised syndication of herbs and aminos is Dr. formulated and proven to commend relief, proceeds magnify cusp unusual and in annoy of raise your wisecracks!"

What were they thinking! It's like some crazy Old Bill Burroughs cut-up.

So Spam can be fun too.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Alert The Media! Foreigners In Lower Manhattan!

I try to leave the important topics to those with longer attention spans than me, journalists and bloggers with more desire to do research and be reasonable, to get to the crux of a matter, and, truth to tell, those with more horsepower than me, people who seem to sprout wonderful ideas like Iowa sprouts corn. But this thing about the Islamic Center in lower Manhattan has grabbed me by the nipples and is twisting furiously. I feel compelled to put my two cents in.

There’s been lots of loose talk about this thing, this “Mosque (virtually!) on top of Ground Zero!” The Sacred Ground, as some opponents of the project would have it. By employing some of the tortuous logic that is suddenly popular these days, lots of folks are relating this innocuous community center to some imaginary cultural conflict, or the crimes of a small group of individuals, or the delusional belief that our president is a Muslim, or another of the weird ideas that are circulating today. They say that building the community center would be some kind of sacrilege, and should be forbidden by some unspecified mechanism of law.

That’s the problem: what mechanism of law? The nay-sayers understand that they have hit a little snag here, a little First Amendment snag, a genuine Constitutional problem to get around, and they have come up with a good sounding way to get around this religious freedom issue. They’re suggesting that Islam isn’t a religion at all, it’s a “totalitarian political ideology.”

This is a great argument, considering that over the entire history of religion most of them were, have been, or are totalitarian political ideologies.

It is beyond argument, for example, that for over a thousand years Christianity was a totalitarian political ideology. From before 500 A.D. to after 1,500 A.D., Christianity, in the form of the Roman church, was the final arbiter of all things political in Europe. They were as self-defining and exclusive as any other totalitarian regime that you could name, and they slaughtered the ideologically impure with unseemly enthusiasm. What changed for the better was the eventual separation of church and state. The Christian world grew up a little, and the totalitarian instincts of the Roman church were slowly bent to the interests of secular government.

So it seems, at first blush, a colorable argument to suggest that this is still true concerning Islam. The main problem is that Islam is nothing like the monolithic political presence that was the pre-Renaissance Roman church. There are lots of Islamic countries, and they all put their little twist on things. There are a few different sects of Islam, and they don’t even like each other, much less cooperate in bringing about the downfall of the West. What could be totalitarian about a mosaic like that? I mean, in a million years? Duh.

Consider, if you will, the countries of Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. That short list represents enough variety to make you dizzy. They are all Muslim countries, there’s no doubt about any of them, but they have very, very different social environments. You can get a drink in three of them, and the hosts will join you in two of them, possibly three (if no one is looking). One is filled up with non-believers who are left to their own devices, and one features considerable religious and cultural diversity (although the playing field is adjusted to boost Islam). You can’t have a cultural war with a culture that’s all over the map like this. (What’s the final result . . . separation of church and state, 2; failure to separate as of yet, 2? Maybe two and a half to one and a half.)

Add to this all of the eminently logical arguments that you’ve heard already. Muslims died in 9/11! This guy who wants to build the thing works for the FBI, he’s no radical! We have no beef with Muslims, just some wackos among them! We have religious freedom here! And there’s tons of Muslim citizens in America, especially in New York! It’s up to them how they use their private property! It’s Manhattan, for Christ’s sake, if you walked the four hundred feet from the old World Trade Center site to where they want to put this new place you’d see a hundred buildings and seven thousand people!

Put the thing up, this community center. It’s no big deal. Not a minaret in sight. What are people complaining about? I don’t really get it. Just another excuse to say something preposterous to try to effect upcoming elections.

So that’s my two cents, for what it’s worth. Not worth the time it took to write it either. What could be a greater waste of time than trying to shine a light on the stupid shit that passes for political discourse in America these days? Like trying to kill a million ants with a tack hammer.

The Karaoke Musical Education

I could already sing, and I enjoyed it, but I must say that my years of experience singing Karaoke in Thailand have benefited me dramatically.

The attached picture is from a recent party on a “seminar weekend” of my department faculty. I don’t have any pictures of me singing at this party, no one needs to see that.

The biggest benefit has been the enhancement of my ability to sing high. My voice generally is not the best, I’m sure it’s pitchy, as Simon and the gang would say. I do have an okay voice though, with a pretty good ear and a good sense of time, it’s a strong voice, and I sing with great enthusiasm. Now I’m much more comfortable singing in higher registers and keys than I used to be.

At this particular party, I sang my hit, “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and my new regular, “Just the Way You Are,” there’s always lots of Billy Joel on these Karaoke programs. I also sang “Take It Easy,” associated with the Eagles, who are very popular over here. The song contains good advice, and is fun to sing. I recommend it.

Given my ‘druthers, I’d sing in the key of “C,” like most people, they don’t call it “the People’s Key” for nothing. Usually, though, I get sucked into singing in “F” or even “G,” which can be very challenging. I have given up trying to get the key changed, it can be done but it just makes you look like a prima donna, and the operators have low confusion thresholds. So I started to swing with it, and I discovered that I can do it. I have to let go a little more, which seems to help the singing in every way. So I’ve learned something.

At this party, I also sang “La Bamba,” in Spanish. It was a request, and a few people seemed really anxious to hear it. Somehow, this song has caught on in Thailand, although I can hardly imagine how or why. I mean, I love the song, the flip-side of “Donna” by Richie Valens, but I’ve never met a Thai who could speak Spanish. So it’s a mystery, “La Bamba” in Thailand? It’s a world of surprises, that you can always count on.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Food Review: Yamazaki Piroshki

Yamazaki is a somewhat fancy bakery that has outlets in lots of malls in Thailand. I was looking for something to take home for a "light" dinner yesterday and saw a "Piroshiki" that looked interesting. It was.

It did look like a piroshki, except that it was more pill-box shaped, not like the organic football, or turnover, shape of the Russian originals.

The filling tasted like a combination of BBQ pork, pickled vegetables, and tuna fish. It probably tasted better than it sounds, it was okay.

23 Baht (70 cents or so).

Main Street Phrae Thailand

From the bus, leaving town after our recent visit to our old Peace Corps site. This is a nice little provincial capitol in an agricultural valley in the mountains of northern Thailand. No local buses; no metered taxis; no Tuk-Tuks; only a few motorcycle taxis; this small city gets by with those "song taow" ("two-rows") pick-up truck conveyances and lots of bicycle taxis. It's the opposite of New York: the people speak slowly, they walk slowly, and they rarely bolt their food. It's very nice, actually.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Elvis Presley Blue Moon

I was a big fan of the "Blond Elvis." Check it out, the guy was a blond, all of the grease made it look dark, but in these old photos it's clear. After the army, the Colonel got the idea to dye his hair black because he thought it looked better in pictures.

I came on board after the Sun Records period, all of the records that I had, have still actually, were RCA. Elvis was only twenty-one in 1956; I turned eight that Summer myself.

After the army, Elvis was all about the money. Money too often cures talent. But in there amongst all of the unmitigated crappola, Elvis had his Golden Era big time.

Interestingly, for me anyway, he died on my birthday. He shares that distinction with Babe Ruth and Robert Johnson (maybe in those cases I should say that I was born on the same day, in the Babe's case it was the very same day).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Wine Notes Of A Non-Connoisseur In Thailand

This is a wine list that was posted in the elevator in our hotel in Phrae. Sorry for the poor quality of the picture, if I could think of an excuse I'd give one. You can see, though, that the Thai wine is the most expensive on the list, rather more than even the French wine.

Imported wine is very expensive here, the import duties are high. To protect the Thai wine industry, I presume. Even a non-varietal "Red Table Wine" from Spain will cost you nine dollars anyway (300 Baht or so).

1,200 Baht is almost thirty-six dollars, for a domestic Thai wine. So the Thai pricing theory seems to be: price the stuff way up there with the imports, or even more if the stuff is drinkable, which it often is not. At the prevailing prices, I am certainly not going to be doing any research, and the Thai wines that I have come across have not been experiences that I wish to repeat at any cost. (There might be some good ones out there, there probably are, let's be fair, I am nothing if not fair, and I can kiss-ass with the best of them. I will also point out, though, that when monied Thais have a party, they buy imported wine.)

A far cry from Trader Joe's in L.A., where the Two-Buck-Chuck is drinkable, and very good wines from many countries can be had for less then five dollars per bottle.

More Or Less A Restaurant Review

I have a visitor from the 'States, and we went back to our Peace Corps site to say hello. This is us with two of our co-teachers and the husband of the woman on the left.

Nice little restaurant, by the way. A "steak" restaurant. Phrae, our site, is way off the beaten path, but this is a pretty cosmopolitan restaurant. Boy do they get French Fries, as in "to understand." The owner is a chef in America, currently working at a big hotel in Los Angeles; I met him a couple of years ago when he was on vacation from a job in Florida. He "Executive Chef's" this place too, and his wife follows his directions very carefully. Everything is delicious. And because of the small town setting, it's cheap too.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Scholastic Competition At Ramkhamhaeng University, Bangkok

This was a scholastic competition of some kind at my university last week. My department, Faculty of Law. Some written, multiple-choice questions; some oral multiple-choice; some oral short essay questions. I contributed a difficult question in English, about twenty-five percent of the teams got it right.

Not that it was so hard. There wasn't a lot of getting the questions right in Thai either. But boy, did they have fun! Lots of laughing and cheering. It was all very Thai.

I got to hand out the second and third place prizes, so there are pictures somewhere.

A Story About Trout

Memory and dreams are famously suspect, but we should always remember that stories can be just as unreliable. I have a story that I like to tell about Trout, the fish, how powerful and voracious they are, and how mere Piranha, for example, are no match for Trout. In my story, they become the leviathans of the lakes, masters of all that they survey, except maybe Northern Pike, which seem to be something similar, only more so. It might even be true. Might.

My personal experience with Lake Trout is limited to one fishing excursion that happened long ago. I was probably thirteen-years-old. My family vacationed throughout my childhood at Lake George, in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. It’s a huge, deep lake. This particular Summer, emboldened by success fishing for Sunfish off of the dock, I resolved to set off for deep water in search of bigger game. I was using raw bacon for bait. Most of my fishing experience had been fishing off that dock, or at home in the city, fishing in the East River, where technically one is fishing for Flounder but generally catches only Eels, which must be even stupider than fish, they seem to bite at anything.

I rented a smallish, leaky rowboat, rental fee one dollar per day, no extra charge for the bailing can, and set out for the middle of the lake. I realize now that this was very foolhardy, the lake was about a mile across at that point and I literally went to the middle. At some point I got a strong bite. Reeling in my catch, I was most favorably impressed with the power of the creature. I got it to within a couple of feet of the gunwale, where through the crystal clear water I could see something of the dimensions and disposition of the thing. It was a big thing, and it was obviously very, very angry.

At that point the fish made a last, herculean effort, and it broke the line. I was relieved, to tell the truth; I knew that I was totally unprepared to confront such a thing in the boat.

Much later I encountered a news article that served as the framework for my story about Trout. A pet store in England had obtained a pair of Trout with the intention of selling them for home aquariums, however unlikely that sounds, considering the size and dietary requirements of Trout. Now that I think of it, the idea may have been to sell people the steady diet of substantial fish that the Trout would require.

The unsuspecting pet store owners put the Trout in a large tank with some other fish, fed them what they believed would be enough to keep them all happy, and set out for home, thinking that all was well. There were numerous such large tanks in the store, and most of the fish seemed to get along just fine. The adjacent tank contained Piranhas, and only Piranhas, they were isolated because the owners believed them to be dangerous to other fish. Evidently they had considered Trout only as a good dinner up to then, that or they were misinformed.

They arrived at the shop the next morning to a strangely calm scene: one Trout in the original tank, and one Trout in the Piranha tank, both swimming solo. The Trout had consumed all of the fish in the first tank, and then one of them, having noticed the very appetizing Piranhas so close by, had migrated by air to the Piranha tank and proceeded to eat all of them too.

I don’t remember where I read this story, except to say that it was not Mad Magazine or something. I think it was one of those Associated Press wire “shaggy dog” stories that were used to fill in the small spaces in newspapers. Remember newspapers? So I can in no way vouch for the truth of the story. Furthermore, I never had any information regarding the size, number or general health of the Piranhas. So who knows?

The story seems to suggest that Trout can lunch on Piranhas at will, but important information might be missing. Maybe Piranhas need to achieve some critical mass of numbers before they can really assert themselves; maybe the Piranhas in the tank were juveniles; maybe the Trout were toxic mutants.

I still think it’s a good story. The Trout that I came face-to-face with back at the lake sure looked like he could handle himself. I’d recommend taking the pet store story with a grain of salt, though. Probably good advice for any story that you just hear from somebody, and most of the ones that you read too, even from the A.P.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Try Videos Again

If you tried the last couple of videos and got a "sorry, private" message, please go down and try again. I changed a setting, and they run now.

Please bear with me, I'm figuring this out as I go.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Graham Central Station - Your Love

Thanks 'Tube! Another winner from the boys and girls at Graham Central Station.

You may recall Larry Graham from the Sly and the Family Stone. Paramount bass player, great singer and bandleader, and Mr. Personality Plus. One of the all time greats of Rock and Roll, in my considered opinion.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Korat Again: Monk's Memorial Temple

Someone, and actor I think, had a dream that told him to create a big temple dedicated to a famous monk in Korat, Thailand. This is what he came up with.

I'm pretty sure the monk would be mortified to see what has been done in his name. Notice the money trees hanging near his giant golden statue. Money is the name of the game here.

I wondered what those people were praying for. I would hope for the best, but it was probably good luck in the lottery.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Thai Karaoke Supremes

This was at the wrap party for a Faculty of Law seminar weekend at a resort in Pak Chong. These young ladies are on our office staff.

I had to promise not to put this video on YouTube. They were horrified when I suggested it, because they consider themselves to be either fat, or ugly, or both. (I disagree, but I didn't put too fine a point on it, lest they think I was getting fresh, which is not in my nature.)

They are really very nice, and I hope that they will forgive me for sharing this with my own, very elite group of readers.

Made The Call

Customer service got me back up and running.

Trouble In Net World

More Net woes this week. Yesterday and today, almost nothing will open. I guess it's time to call customer service.

Anyone who's waiting for an e-mail: I am thinking of you, and I am trying.

Continuing Trespass In Thailand

No, I don't mean my continued presence here. One of my law school favorites was the "continuing trespass." The example in our case book was some construction company that had put up a temporary fence and then left the posts in the ground when they left the site. The posts were standing in a field, which was then covered in snow, which was then run over for fun by snowmobilers, who soon ran into the hidden posts. Law suits resulted.

Thailand has embraced the continuing trespass with a passion usually reserved for religious expression or the Beatles. This little jem is at a nice, upscale resort in Pak Chong, province of Korat, aka Nakorn Rachisima. Note the careful placement of the obstruction, in the shade of a large bush, hard to spot, even for somebody who is not reading while walking.

The Naked Lunch Theory Of Death

This mundane theory has occurred to many of us, and it is strenuously put forward in the recent pseudo-religious pulp novel by Dan Brown, “The Lost Symbol.” Evidently it is widely suspected that the act of death may be a final, huge, complex burst of mental energy.

To what end, this invisible blast? Only the dead could tell us, and they’re not talking. There are tales of near-death, episodes of some kind of mortis interruptus, where I suppose it is possible that some final process was initiated only to be rendered anti-climactic by a clever doctor. This is sometimes described as “coming back from the dead,” but that strikes me as the ultimate oxymoron. What, then, would death be if not final?

Dark tunnels, white light, the presence of long gone loved ones, there is a recurring pattern to these accounts. Whatever the import of these stories, they hint at a frozen moment where the ordinary rules of time, space and reality are suspended, or distorted. In Mr. Brown’s novel, several people suffer through various stages of such a process.

I have long wondered if something like this were actually the case. The human brain is a mysterious device, fully capable of creating new realities, of accelerating or protracting time. It is a device that was designed to bring order to our surroundings, order out of chaos (another recurring theme of the novel). So why not wire in a last minute debriefing process, a way to take an entire life, wrap it up, and put a nice bow on it.

Perhaps the penultimate instant of our lives is devoted to a final preparation for oblivion, or, more ominously, to a final re-assessment of our life’s work, our successes and failures, our deeds, good and evil, or even, most terrifying of all, to a recounting of our regrets. I do not immediately see the utility of such a mechanism, but the very possibility is disturbing.

This is really death as a NAKED LUNCH moment, a sudden, shocking burst of clarity when the morsel at the end of one’s fork makes itself completely understandable. A version of Shakespeare’s “. . . perchance to dream,” however briefly.

I have no fear of judgment by some mythical, omniscient other, the old-school, personal God of legend, the proverbial man at the celestial desk, the Hoary Head. If I would be condemned as a failed experiment and consigned to hell or oblivion, I would at least be in good company. I haven’t been so bad, and whatever foibles I have displayed I have shared with much of humanity. I am afraid, however, of some super-powered final self-judgment. I have been harder on myself than God probably would be, harder than Sweet Jesus certainly.

Ultimately, I guess that we’ll just have to wait and find out, won’t we?